Architects and construction professionals gave a lukewarm reaction to last week’s budget speech, despite pedges to boost infrasturcture and housing
With the country teetering on the edge of a triple-dip recession, last week’s budget announcement by George Osborne promised several major measures aimed at boosting the construction industry.
One of the most significant was the chancellor’s pledge to invest an additional £18 billion in UK infrastructure over the next decade, starting from 2015.
While Osborne claimed he was investing in the ‘economic arteries of this country’ RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn complained the cash injection was ‘far too late for many businesses that are struggling now.’
He added: ‘Our members have told us repeatedly that the success of infrastructure projects are about delivery on the ground. RICS believe government should spend more time and resource in supporting business to gain access to these public sector projects.’
Turner & Townsend public sector director Jon Poore said while Osborne’s pledge of an extra £3 billion of public sector infrastructure investment a year was eye-catching, it was ‘also an acknowledgement that his plan for the private sector to step into the breach is struggling’.
The chancellor unveiled a raft of measures to boost house building. Key policies included a £3.5 billion Help to Buy loans scheme, a fivefold increase in build to rent funding and a £225 million investment to build 15,000 new affordable homes in England by 2015.
Ben de Waal, head of residential at AECOM, said the scheme was: ‘great news for the volume housebuilders. It will give confidence to the Registered Providers to use market sales to cross-subsidise social housing and will realise the potential to own your own home to thousands of people who may otherwise have been excluded.’
While RIBA president Angela Brady welcomed the pledges, she argued they would fail to stimulate the ‘desperately needed’ delivery of sustainable new homes and communities. She said: ‘The private sector has only ever delivered around 150,000 homes a year, so while [the] Help to Buy announcement will enable greater access to mortgage finance, it does not sufficiently address the root cause of the housing crisis: we are not building enough homes, many of those that are being built aren’t good enough, and we cannot rely on private housebuilding alone to turn things around.’
The government signaled its determination to simplify planning, reiterating pledges made last October to streamline 6,000 pages of ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’.
Osborne also laid the ground to allow unused buildings including shops, barns and other farm buildings to be converted to homes. Liz Pearce, chief executive of the British Property Federation said: ‘Retail to residential conversions could be an important step in breathing life into our high streets.’